QQ Sweeper is a manga that I wasn’t quite sure I would like going in, but it did win me over after a little while. Written and illustrated by Kyousuke Motomi, this three volume manga isn’t perfect but manages to have a lot to say about mental illness while keeping to its fantasy aesthetic. Set in a world where people called Sweepers are able to access people’s minds through magical doors, QQ Sweeper combines romance, magic, and psychology with a pretty striking art style to produce something short and sweet.
Here’s a quick synopsis to get you started:
After her family abandons her, Fumi finds herself wandering around her school after-hours with no place to go. She manages to stumble upon a strangely calming room in the school’s old building that practically glows with how clean it is. Letting the room’s atmosphere overwhelm her, Fumi falls to sleep only to be woken by Kyutaro, the school’s official cleaner and her future classmate. Kyutaro is treated like an outsider by the rest of the school for his obsession with cleaning and his nasty temper, but Fumi can only see him as a sort of mystery. When a mysterious door appears in the old school building room, Fumi gets dragged into something both magical and frightening. Can her strong will save her this time, or will she get sucked into the darkness filled with squirming insects?
The art and panel design throughout this manga is pretty strong, using high contrast to create scenes with an overwhelmingly creepy or sometimes depressive mood. I don’t think their depiction of the monsters and insects can measure up to what Ancient Magus’ Bride managed to accomplish in terms of creepiness, but Motomi was still able to create scenes that would have the fiercest insect-phobe’s skin crawling. Motomi also seems to know how to invoke certain emotions and tones through the use of values and art style. There are moments when scenes wherein the characters are being romantic or sentimental the art and values shift to softer tones and lighter outlines. This helps convey to the reader that feeling of comfort and wistfulness. The same can be seen when Kyutaro looks back to his past memories, the panels covered in a haze of fog, giving us the impression that there may be details missing. When the story suddenly turns to more emotionally fraught or action-filled moments, Motomi changes the style again to harsh outlines, darker values, and more stylistic character designs. This allows these scenes to pose a stark contrast to the other more simplistic slice-of-life or romantic moments.
Expressions are one of the other features that Motomi seems to be strong in. When we are introduced to Fumi, we get a pretty strong representation of her range of expressions. In this area, it almost reminds me of Skip Beat’s Kyoko or Kare Kano’s Yukino in how Motomi chooses to draw them. At times they can be absurd — like when Fumi morphs into a Buddha statue — or powerfully emotional — like when she puts on the facade of a princess after being bullied. And while I compare this manga in some areas to those two others, I still don’t think QQ Sweeper quite lives up to their level in terms of quality of expressions and art, but it’s enough to make me nostalgic to read them again.
The story behind QQ Sweeper starts off pretty normal but then ramps up its fantasy elements pretty fast. At the start, we have some pretty standard plot lines: a girl abandoned by her family searching for a new place to call home and a kind of standard start to a high school romance. Either it’s the type of stories I’m drawn to or the popularity of this kind of storyline, but I seem to be seeing a lot of stories about kids being abandoned and searching for homes. QQ Sweeper, Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, and Kamisama Kiss all feature main characters who for some reason or another lost their family and their homes. Maybe it’s the nature of Japan’s culture or economic state that writers are choosing to focus on issues like family debt splitting up families, I can’t really speak to that at this point. But the main plot of forming a new family is pretty strong here. Fumi is someone whose family rejects her as cursed and comes to find shelter within the household of Kyutaro by choosing to work for them. In the process, she begins to develop a stronger relationship with them that can be said to be like family. For all that it may be becoming slightly overused, it does convey a pretty strong point that blood ties are often not as strong as the family you choose for yourself.
As it introduces us to the fantasy part of the story, it begins to incorporate and merge ideas about psychology and spirituality. The job of Sweepers is to get rid of the negative thoughts and emotions that can infect people’s minds and homes in order to make their patient’s life better. The leader of the their family of Sweepers is a psychologist who practices hypnotherapy in order to look into their minds and provide his own brand of treatment. These negative thoughts come to manifest themselves as insects — bees, centipedes, and sometimes grubs — and the Sweepers are aptly named for how they get rid of these pests. By utilizing an old spiritual technique commonly done to rid the home of negative energies and purify a place, Kyutaro and Fumi literally sweep away the bugs. Brooms have been a facet of many spiritual traditions over the centuries to help purify an area. By combining this idea with this more modern psychological concept of change your environment and you change your state of mind, QQ Sweeper creates a pretty telling and emotional story delves pretty deep into mental illness.
The setup of the magical realm that the Sweepers go into to help their patients hearkens back to a lot of older ideas in psychology. When Fumi first enters into that world she steps into a large area filled with doors. Each of those doors is an entrance to another person’s mind. Kyutaro describes this space as the collective unconscious, a term coined by Carl Jung who was one of Freud’s most notable students. The idea behind the collective unconscious is that it’s supposed to connect the unconscious minds of everyone from the same species through their use of archetypes and instincts. Here, it acts an as entrance point for the Sweepers to access different people’s minds. With the addition of psychotherapy, the story takes on a vague Inception vibe as Fumi and Kyutaro enter into the mind of a patient under deep hypnosis in order to change their mental outlook. For someone who spent a good chunk of her life studying psychology, this is a pretty interesting concept presented in a way that isn’t too complicated to follow.
Within all of this is a very clear message about the nature of mental illness and the proper way to handle it. We see this clearly in how the family of Sweepers support each other after they’ve had to deal with other people’s thoughts as well as their own. Kyutaro and Fumi’s relationship shows this the clearest. In one scene, Fumi is woken from a terrible nightmare and is too disturbed to go back to sleep. She ventures down to Kyutaro’s room and is offered comfort and willingness on his part to listen to her problems. In another way, we also see the effects of mental illness through the patients that they help. In one, a student becomes depressed and violent after losing sight of his dream of becoming a baseball player. Fumi and Kyutaro not only enter into his subconscious but also travel to his home and help him clean his environment. In the process, we see Kyutaro pay immense respect to his old baseball gear, cleaning it until it shines, while listening to the student talk. This all has a great point about helping people who are struggling with mental illness by just being there to listen and give them the push they need to face their issues head on.
In terms of romance, QQ Sweeper returns to using a common plot device of childhood love being rekindled. Both Kyutaro and Fumi are searching for their own love: Kyutaro for his childhood crush who disappeared one day and Fumi for a rich man who can support her. In the process of supporting each other’s depression, they come to form a bond and strong understanding of one another. Fumi comes to view Kyutaro as her savior and the most important person in her life while he comes to see the the same traits he loved in his childhood crush in Fumi. For him, Fumi is the embodiment of the girl he fell in love with (if not actually her) but she’s also a different person in her own right. As he comes to get to know her better, those two things begin to fuse together into something new.
However, QQ Sweeper has its problems that make me not like it as much as some other fantasy romances. For one, while I said one of Motomi’s strength was the contrast between her lighter and darker moments, sometimes the switch between them can be too stark and quick. At moments, it’s the difference of a page where one minute a character is completely calm and collected and then the next page, they’re surrounded by darkness. This flip is just way too fast for the vast difference in emotion that is shown and can leave the reader reeling for a second as they figure out what happened. The other big problem was the nature of the ending. It’s revealed that Fumi is this all powerful magic user who can control people’s minds for good or evil. This starts an arc of both sides fighting for control over her. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of all powerful character after the way the rest of the manga was going. I didn’t really feel it was needed, and honestly just wanted it to continue in a kind of episodic format like say Mushishi or Natsume Yuujin-chou where one person or issue is focused on per chapter with a couple of overarching plot arcs.
But if its use of psychology, magic, and romance appeals to you, definitely check it out. It is a pretty short read with only three volumes plus a sequel named Queen’s Quality that continues the story after this one ends. If you have already read QQ Sweeper, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!